Guardians and Horizontal Hill: 14-16 April 2017


Gould, Guardians, Horizontal Hill circuit GPS route

Easter means a lot of different things. This year, it gave me a chance for a 3 day walk before I started full time work. Both Graham and I had been flat out in the lead up and had left the choice of destination until we had a full weather forecast. When two friends extended an invitation to join them on their Gould, Minotaur and Guardians trip we thought it would be a lovely way to celebrate Easter.

And so we started devising a plan that would allow us to spend a bit of time with them, but also worked within our 3 compared to their 4 days, the ferry availability and our desire to camp on top of the Guardians and attempt Horizontal Hill. We ended up with something that was mostly solid, but did have an escape plan should we not be able to find our way off the Guardians’ cliffs towards Horizontal.

We broke all records on the Friday morning, leaving five minutes EARLY, despite a last minute search around for the Olympus map for two other friends who had shifted their walk from the Southern Ranges to Olympus that very morning! It was nice to catch up with them briefly before they headed off, and also with a customer I’d met just the day before – Tassie is a very small place!

After failing to convince the ferry lady we really wanted to pay for the return trip and we certainly wouldn’t be deciding the weather was too nice on the Sunday (it was due to rain all day) and we’d walk out instead, we sat in the sun and ate our lunch. As we did so we tried to figure out exactly where a group of 9 who had signed the multiday logbook would be walking if they planned to do Gould, The Guardians and Lake Marion as stated. We were slightly concerned there might not be much room for all of us around the two small tarns on the Gould plateau, and could only hope we wouldn’t all end up in the one place! There was nothing we could do but wait and see…

We hopped aboard the ferry just after midday. Its master had a somewhat perfunctory manner about him and conversation was kept to the bare minimum, but it would take a lot more than that to dampen our excitement – we were going on a walk after all!!

As we approached Narcissus we hollered out to Bec and Meredith who were just finishing their paddle up the lake. We’d be sharing the night with them but left them to beach and hide their boats, sort their gear out, hide their paddles elsewhere and have some lunch before starting the walk.

It had been a few years since our first trip in to Gould and the Minotaur (written up in its own post), and a lot of the terrain had been conveniently forgotten – particularly the knee-scratching-overgrown-bauera part. But the track was still in good nick, and only difficult to follow in one or two places in the forest if you didn’t take care.

We entertained ourselves as we walked in our own ways. Graham wrote things in the mud for Meredith and Bec, while I struggled to cough and breathe and walk all at once. I might have had a bit of a cold, and hadn’t thought about the effect cold air might have on my lungs. Needless to say, Graham had lots of time to craft his messages and draw his pictures!

When we popped out the top of the rather lovely but increasingly steep forest, we were reminded of why we loved the plateau as much as we did. As soon as you get up I reckon it must be obligatory to head left to the slab of rock and admire the views. Though they extend all around, Byron and Olympus stole centre stage, followed by the Geryons and Acropolis, and of course Gould. Many other familiar faces played supporting roles and I think we both felt like we’d returned to the bush.

We enjoyed taking numerous photos of the same mountains, just to capture the changing light, before dragging ourselves away to see if we’d be sharing the campsite with 9 others. We’d seen evidence of fresh footprints, but weren’t entirely sure. Rounding the small hill we found that the tarns were all ours, which caused us some confusion but not enough to dwell on for too long.

We chose a site that left plenty of room for Bec and Meredith, and set about pitching the tent and unpacking our gear. Even with all our phaffing it had taken us only 2 hours to get up, so it wasn’t all that late but it was pretty damn cold. That meant we didn’t hang out for too long before sliding under our sleeping bags and cooking up some soup. Bec and Meredith weren’t too far behind us and we had a nice catch up, shared Easter treats, then got an early night because it was just too cold to sit out.

Byron from the lip of the Gould Plateau.. the light was nice

A few moments later and the light had changed again!

A lovely camp site, we pitched our tent and waited for Bec and Meredith to join us

We took a few photos, despite having been here before.. the Geryons are always nice to look at

Evening light on Olympus.. Two of our friends were somewhere over there

We had an excellent night’s sleep on the new mattress configuration that Meredith had designed us (anyone who uses two single mattresses instead of a double will know the exact nature of our discomfort), and we thanked her profusely (she’s the best go to person you’ll find). The usual mix of breakfast, photos and packing up followed, with the mist and reflections making the place even more magical than it already was. It was only unusual in that Graham did a sterling job of trying to cook pancakes with wholly inappropriate gear – and I have to say they were pretty good for bush pancakes, even if I teased him at the time!

We eventually set off and made it to the start of the rather steep climb up Gould together. Meredith and Bec had been in two minds about whether to sidle or go over Gould, and we did our best to give them the information we could remember from our first trip. They chose to follow us up and over, but to do so at their own pace.

We wished them the best and headed off. Our memories must have faded with time, or perhaps it was a matter of looking at the terrain through other people’s eyes, but we realised as we approached the crest at the southern end of the ridge that the information we’d given might not have been as accurate as we’d have liked.

As we crested the end and started across the rocky ridge to the summit the walking was much easier, the peak was visible, and there were easy routes down to the low scrub off the side. We just hoped Bec and Meredith would persist to that point – we had no doubt they could, it was just a matter of whether they would. Neither of us could shake a slightly uneasy feeling however, which only grew the longer we sat on the summit eating lunch.

We kept an eye out for them, as well as one out to the north because we could hear voices quite clearly, could see tents pitched below the Minotaur and half expected to be joined at any moment. We exchanged ‘hellos’ with the voices, which was pretty cool, and we guessed they were part of the party of 9. As we left the summit we watched them strike camp and head to the west, and guessed we’d be meeting them sometime that evening!

Part way down my phone buzzed. I’d accidentally left it on from the summit, and had an uneasy feeling it was going to be word from Meredith and Bec. It was. They’d had, as can so easily happen out there on big rocks, a big bit of a scare and had made the sensible choice to turn back to Gould’s plateau. Graham and I were somewhat subdued. I think we both felt a mix of worried, disappointed for them for not having made it to any of the mountains they’d planned or their intended camp site, and partly responsible for having given the information that had swayed them to attempt the up and over route.

We continued on, however, sliding more than walking down the shale-y chute to the saddle between Gould and the Minotaur, then up the far side, before turning left and taking the scrub free route out along the southern side of the Guardian plateau. Graham, bless him, is like a dog chasing a rabbit when he has other walkers in front of him, and he shot off ahead (must be a male thing – my brother is exactly the same on his bike). I struggled to keep up, coughing and panting in his wake.

Part way up the only real climb along the plateau he caught up to the group ahead of us, who, as it turned out, had already figured out who he was courtesy of his yellow gloves and glasses! They’d also guessed who I was too, courtesy of the rockmonkey reputation, which is always nice but does make me a little nervous that I might not live up to expectations if they’ve got out of hand, as reputations can (I am, after all, just like many other bushwalkers – a lot of passion, a little bit crazy but nothing extraordinary).

When I finally arrived at their resting spot we had a formal introduction. They were indeed the group of 9 and as we’d guessed from the leader’s name in the book, were on a Launceston Walking Club walk. They were a lovely bunch and we looked forward to sharing the evening with them at the Guardian’s summit tarn (for that was where we were both headed).

We continued on at our own paces, and found the tarn wasn’t far away (less than 2 hours from Gould’s summit). We selected a spot around the far side, out of the wind and with excellent views, and in a location that gave the LWC walkers (and one NWWC walker) plenty of room to pitch tents. We then headed for the summit, aware that it was going to get cold and dark early, and wanting to have enough time to scout out the right gully that we’d need for the next morning.

The summit was a simple affair, but the views unique and not hard to take. As we sat there enjoying it all the LWC group made their way up too. We chatted some more (they were very generous with their gratitude for this blog – and it was lovely to hear that they were using it as it was intended!), celebrated the summit, and accepted (and enjoyed!) their generously offered Easter eggs.

We then went our own ways, some went to a second high point, some went to check out the gullies that ran like scars down the cliff face. We did the latter, keen to know where we’d need to go the next morning, and aware that we wouldn’t have time to make mistakes then given we had a big day and a ferry deadline to meet.

We found one that Graham really liked the look of, but it didn’t have a cairn marking the top, as we’d been told to look out for (see the Abels description). After scouting back east-ish along the cliff line we finally found a cairn and picked the gully we thought it most likely to be associated with. We weren’t sure though, so decided to suss it out till we were confident we could get the whole way down. We got a fair way down, in the process ruling out any of the other nearby gullies as they were just too steep, but came to a 3-5m drop without much to hold on to. While it might have been possible, it wasn’t going to be safe with full packs and in the rain, and we still had concerns for sections further down. We wrote it off and went back to the gully we’d first liked the look of.

As we headed over we had a chat with the LWC leader, who had also thought it was the best pick. As they went back to camp and dinner we decided to make sure. We picked our way down and although we came to two steep but not impossible bits, we opted to work our way around them, each time heading to the left. By the time we got to a little gap in the rocks to the left side of the gully we knew we’d be fine getting down the following morning, so we marked it with a cairn for future walkers and headed back to the top. There we erected another cairn, just to keep the Abels accurate and to help out any other walkers who might try the circuit!

When we returned we headed over to the LWC tents with biscuits and cheese. We’d been intending on sharing them with Meredith and Bec but seeing we’d not get the chance, we thought it was pretty fitting (even if they weren’t chocolate Easter eggs!). We shared what we found and chatted about all sorts of things. They also seemed to get along really well with each other and gave off an infectiously happy vibe that it was a pity we weren’t still in the longer days of summer so we could sit around a chat for longer. But again the cold and dark drove us to our tents early that night.

The next morning was still, and the mist slowly lifted to reveal the mountains

Guardians and Horizontal Hill – our two ‘mountains’ for the trip

Olympus had a sleep in

By the time we’d climbed to the foot of Gould, the cloud was gone and views back to the lake and Olympus were perfect

The Eldons feel different now we’ve been there

Ahh.. the Guardians sprawling out in the midday sun

And another one of that ridgeline.

Horizontal Hill, gives a sense of the route we took

Lake Marion from the edge of the Guardian’s plateau

Can you spot the LWC walkers enjoying the cliff edge?

Not a bad place to camp, just shy of the Guardians summit

Tent was up as the LWC group follows suit. It’s time for us to check out the summit

The top of the gully we took down, in case you want to use it!

A brief bit of colour before the cloud took over

Warm light on Macs and Walled… we thought about another friend who was having an ambitious crack at Nereus that day

Guardians summit with Gould behind

We woke at some ridiculously cold and wet hour, trying not to think about having to get out of our sleeping bags and packing up the tent as our fingers progressively and paradoxically became painfully numb. But we did, and the rain was good enough to pause a while as we did so.

We scuttled over to the cliff edge, haunched and withdrawn into our wet weather shells in attempt to escape the cold caress of the wind and rain. We found the cairn we’d erected the evening before and complimented ourselves for its position. From the direction we’d approached it, it had really stood out on the horizon and we only hoped it would be that way for other parties. Down we went, taking care in the new slipperiness. We were really glad we’d already scoped it out because the poor visibility was disconcerting enough.

We were now walking blind, quite literally, with only very limited information with which to make route-finding decisions. We managed to strike lucky, however, and made the use of the scree, followed by some weaving through the trees in what was really quite low scrub until we hit the saddle. It would have been awesome to be able to look back up at the Guardian’s cliff line, but it wasn’t to be. Instead Graham took over the lead and charged into the scrub. It was a fair bit thicker here, but again we ended up on a pretty good line and he was able to make the most of patches of open myrtle forest.

After climbing a few contour lines the scrub got short, wiry and robust and we were slowed down a fair bit. We altered our plan of attack, choosing to sidle over to the ridge to our left, where we reckoned the going would be much better (it was, after all, the recommended route). We found some nice pads when we got there, which lined up nicely with a GPS route we had. We dropped packs and followed the pads all the way to the summit, finding a tub of sunscreen on the way (are you missing yours? Send me a message!).

We didn’t spend much time up there, enough to duck around to all the possible high points (it’s pretty flat up there – good camping in fact, as we’d been told just before we left!), pull out a snack and take one photo in the rain. We were back at the packs in no time, put on extra layers, and kept heading down the ridge, trying to figure out where the voices and laughter we could here were from – likely the LWC group, though they weren’t in sight. We were expecting to hit scrub at any moment but were kept hanging in suspense and weren’t at all disappointed when it never eventuated. Instead we had open forests and low bauera all the way to the water’s edge, where we were treated to a small spot of sun and a hint of the Guardian’s cliffs.

It was a good feeling to be down in the time we’d hoped and to just have the very easy walk out on the Lake Marion track. First we had to wade the edge of the lake, which meant wet and cold feet and a swarm of tiny little gnat like flies that seemed determined to get in eyes, noses and mouths. At the far end of the lake we had a chat to a guy who’d bought his family complete with kids in (pretty cool) and then followed his directions to the start of the track. The next few hours took us through some stunning button grass plains and then lovely myrtle forest (which had plenty of other species of tree in it too!). We were both feeling pretty tired by this stage and kept to a slow steady pace.

It was really nice to change into dry clothes at Narcissus, but even better to see Bec and Meredith walk around the corner shortly afterwards! We caught up, enjoyed hot chocolate and cheese and before we knew it we were hopping on the ferry. The circuit is definitely worth consideration if you don’t mind a bit of route finding, and well exceeded our expectations! Though Horizontal has been described as a oncer, I’d even consider going back.

It just so turned out that this easter was a people-y easter, and it was very much enjoyed – it’s hard to beat spending time with good people.

Day 1: 5.4km 2:10hrs, 491m ascent

Day 2: 9km, 8hrs, 924m ascent

Day 3: 12.5km, 7:12hrs, 309m ascent

The flat summit of Horizontal Hill. It was quite fun despite the wet, and Graham raises a (half eaten!) chocolate bar in celebration

At Lake Marion, the cliffs of the Guardians are covered in low cloud